Easter morning is a special time, for not only Christians but for children who come to equate the holiday with a celebration that includes candy, Easter Egg hunts, family, and Easter baskets.
Some, though, do not get the chance to celebrate Easter in a traditional way for any number of reasons. Thanks to two local charities, those who may have not otherwise received an Easter basket do so thanks to the kindness and generosity of others.
The two groups – Hayleigh’s Helping Hands and Alleluia Baskets – are headed up by Hayleigh Arbutti, a 19-year-old college student who attends the University of Arkansas and Karen Mesler, who recently stepped away from her full-time job to make Alleluia Baskets her life’s work.
The two got to where they are, though, in quite a different way.
“I fractured my back in a gymnastics competition in 2012, was sent to Cardinal Glennon to get x-rays and had to go back multiple times. I realized there were children there that were too sick and injured that could not go home for Easter,” said Arbutti. “I wanted to do something for them, so in 2012 I delivered 5
0 Easter baskets to Cardinal Glennon and have since delivered not just to Cardinal Glennon but also Youth in Need, the Women’s Crisis Center, Our Lady’s Inn, and Progress West Pediatric Hospital.”
Arbutti saw that number grow to 482 last year when she teamed up with the St. Charles Police Department for it’s annual Easter Egg Hunt, and this year has a goal of making 1,000 baskets. That’s quite an accomplishment for one person and her family – especially considering the vast majority of the funding for the baskets is out of pocket.
“I come home from Arkansas about once a month to put the baskets together,” she said. “My mom, dad, and a couple of friends do help out – we get them made, put them in our cars and get them delivered – and are hoping to start delivering in Arkansas, too.”
Alleluia Baskets has a clear mission – to deliver Easter baskets to deserving children on Easter morning.
“I was teaching 8th grade religion in 2004 and I wanted to bring Easter to the awareness of more people and help out children, so I asked a dozen 8th graders to start a project,” said Mesler. “I challenged them – I bought them all baskets and asked them to bring things in to fill the baskets and we managed to fill 25. We had to go buy more things to fill the baskets and donated them to the St. Vincent DePaul Society.”
The number of baskets filled by Alleluia Baskets has reached 738 – a number that has pushed Mesler and her volunteers out of her home and into donated commercial space.
“We make requests for space donation every year, and once we get the ‘yes’ that’s all it takes. We now service 33 different homes and shelters. We go to the places where the children are that have no place else to go. We do what we can to help children smile on Easter.”
While making baskets for kids of all ages – infants to 18 years old (with special care to customize for each age group, including no choking hazards for the littlest among them) – Mesler says Alleluia Baskets delivers from Troy, Old Monroe, Independence, and Springfield, MO to the Illinois side of the river and everywhere in between.
“We start filling these in January so that parents or caregivers can hand them out on Easter morning. We make them available two to four weeks in advance so we can either deliver them or they can be picked up,” she said. “We do all of this with support from Central County Fire and Rescue, Knights of Columbus Council 1587, families, volunteers, other groups, and Rom Hamann American Family Insurance, who has made sure we are 100% covered with donated insurance.”
For both Arbutti and Mesler, the opportunity to make a difference on Easter is what makes it all worthwhile.
“This is where I need to be,” said Mesler. “I do this with love, for love, and out of love.”
“It’s amazing to see their faces knowing I am making a difference in a child’s life,” said Arbutti. “I would recommend this to anyone. It changes your life seeing the impact you make on their lives.”
For anyone interested in donating to Hayleigh’s Helping Hands, they have a GoFundMe set up that is set to remain active indefinitely at https://www.gofundme.com/hayleighs-helping-hands.
Alleluia Baskets has places for donations, volunteers, and sponsors at http://alleluiabaskets.org/.